Earlier this month, in rousing, stump-speechy comments to a decidedly home crowd at the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting here, Gov. Greg Abbott declared his undying love of the Second Amendment.
On Wednesday, in a school board room about nine miles north of where he had made those remarks and 12 days after Texas became the site of the latest school shooting, Abbott proved his love by leaving out serious gun-control talk in his otherwise admirable plan to combat school shootings.
We know this about school shootings: It’s a complex problem and guns are part of it.
After listing other components in his 43-page plan — some of which needs legislative approval — Abbott at last got around to talking about the gun part of the problem. “Finally,” he said, “we must take steps to enhance gun safety in the state of Texas.”
Abbott then listed his Second Amendment bona fides as predicate for the important-as-far-as-they-go gun-related proposals he’s pitching. “I can assure you I will never allow Second Amendment rights to be infringed,” he said. “But I will promote responsible gun ownership.”
His plan includes a call to raise the age at which someone is considered a child from whom adult gun owners would have to secure their guns; Abbott wants to raise that one year to include 17-year-olds like the shooter at Santa Fe High School. He also wants to mandate that gun owners report lost or stolen guns to law enforcement. In another important recommendation, he wants a 48-hour window for courts to report mental health adjudication decisions that would affect someone’s right to have a gun. The law now sets a ridiculously long 30-day period.
Abbott also wants lawmakers to study the possibility of a so-called “red-flag” law that would allow family members, school officials or prosecutors to ask courts to remove guns from people proven to be a potential danger to themselves or others.
“This plan,” Abbott said in wrapping up, “is a starting point, not an ending place.”
Indeed. It did little to start a full-throated discussion about broader gun control questions, such as requiring universal background checks prior to gun purchases, raising the legal age for gun purchases and limiting the amount of ammo in a gun.
Abbott is in the camp of people who believe guns in the right hands are part of the solution to school shootings. I agree and laud his call for a broadening of the school marshal program that allows districts — allows, does not mandate — to have trained school personnel with campus access to guns for defensive purposes.
In most cases, gun-wielding assailants at a school continue their shooting sprees until confronted by gun-wielding opposition. Abbott is calling for abolishing the current requirement that school marshals in direct contact with students keep their guns in a locked safe, a provision the Abbott reports notes “counters the purpose of having armed security on campus in the first place.”
Please be assured that nobody is calling for arming all teachers. Abbott and others are calling for arming qualified, trained school personnel who volunteer. And only in districts that think the idea makes sense for them.
I remain firmly grounded in the notion that the rights of the law-abiding should not be unduly restricted because of the wrongs of lawbreakers. Abbott, however, has pigeon-holed himself in a political place where he can’t support the mere discussion of gun restrictions, including some favored by many law-abiding gun owners.
At the NRA meeting in early May, Abbott said: “Someone said the problem is not guns. The problem is hearts without God. It’s homes without discipline. It’s communities without values.”
Let’s take those in reverse order. Homes without discipline and communities without values are problems — aggravated by violent movies and video games — but I’m not sure what government can do about them.
And I’m sure I don’t want government to do anything about hearts without God.
Whoever said “The problem is not guns” gets, at most, partial credit. Guns are part of the problem. We need to talk about that part beyond what Abbott’s talking about.
Dallas school district Superintendent Michael Hinojosa was among those who stood behind the governor Wednesday. When it was over, Hinojosa praised the overall effort but expressed disappointment at the lack of talk about serious gun-control measures.
“This is Texas, so I’m not too surprised by that,” he said.
And he shouldn’t have been surprised by a governor who, not long ago and not far away, signaled the climax to his remarks to the NRA by putting his right hand to his forehead in a salute to those in the crowd.